Apr 16, 2023

Walkers in Highland bring attention to gun violence

Pam Newson can see a person who's lost a child a mile away.

The miles-long stare, the heaviness, the "being here but not really here" is clear to those who belong to the club in which no one wants to be, Newson said. And it never really goes away, either; it's just something you learn to tolerate as best you can and hope that tomorrow doesn't hurt as much as yesterday.

That's why she and her mom joined more than 75 people in walking with Hammond-based Group Circle of Love's inaugural End Gun Violence Walk Friday at Wicker Memorial Park in Highland. Having cofounded her own support group after her son Iyuan Yarbrought's March 2016 murder in which he was killed by man who’d dated the woman he was seeing, doing something — anything — makes all the difference in getting to the next day.

Visitors gather around a table with photos of loved ones lost to gun violence during a Circle of Love-led Wear Orange to End Gun Violence event at Wicker Park in Highland on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune) (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

"Pain produces power, and power produces purpose," Newson said. "(Those of us in my group and others with whom I partner) have become family, and it's good to connect with people who can relate. But giving up is not an option; you might take the body, but you’ll never take the spirit."

Sylvia Galvan, of Hammond, who cofounded Circle of Love with fellow gun-violence survivor Tina Moreno, said there’ve been many times she's wanted to join her sons — Thaddeus Rodriguez, who was killed in 2016, and Matt Galvan II, who died in 2020 from cancer — on the other side. But if she's not here, she can't help keep her son's memory, and the memories of those who’ve also lost children to guns, alive.

"Gun violence never stops," Galvan said. "It's very, very painful, but we’re here so no one has to go through this alone."

Circle of Love director Sylvia Galvan, on left, and her son-in-law William Bagni make their way through Wicker Park during a 24-hour walk to honor victims of gun violence on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune) (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Tracey Kim Snow, a licensed therapist and senior lecturer with Governors State University in University Park, Illinois, brought three of her students to the event to be there in case anyone needed their support. She said that when people are grieving, those who try to understand and help often ask the wrong question.

"We see it a lot with children where they don't have the words to voice what they’re feeling, so they act out," Snow said. "But the question to ask isn't, ‘What's wrong with you?’ — it's ‘What happened to you?’"

Her students — Jenna Dodoer and Erin Shea, of Mokena, Illinois, and Veronica Torres, of Posen, Illinois — said one of the things they’ve taken to heart from Snow and from the work they do in class is to be open, because you never know what to expect even though you’ve counseled countless people.

"When it comes to community violence, you really can't prepare yourself for what you’re going to hear, even after all the training," Shea said. "You just have to see who needs the most support."

Volunteer Caila Vale affixes an orange ribbon to a window during a Circle of Love event and 24-hour walk to honor victims of gun violence on Friday, June 2, 2023. (Kyle Telechan for the Post-Tribune) (Kyle Telechan/Post-Tribune)

Robert Swiderski showed up for Galvan even though his life's mission is slightly different. The Barrington, Illinois man walks to bring awareness to the mental health issues the Chicago Police and police everywhere endure.

"There's this sense of hopelessness for those of us who’re left to carry on, and we’re banded together by gun violence," Swiderski said. "I’m here because Sylvia's run with me."

More than 43,000 Americans die from gun violence each year, and more 76,000 are wounded by firearms, according to Wear Orange, an organization created in June 2, 2015, in memory of Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013.

Michelle L. Quinn is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.